You have to go through what you have to go through.
I addressed young folks at the Under 25 Lit Fest at IIT – M on Sunday. Most of the audience comprised of budding writers. One of them caught up with me after my Talk. He told me that his work had been rejected by 20 publishers over five years now. “I feel defeated. I believe in my work. I know I have something very valuable to share with the world. I don’t mind if I am rejected because my work is bad. But almost everyone has told me that my manuscript is very good. Yet they don’t want to publish my book…I fail to understand what Life is trying to tell me,” he exclaimed. He wanted to know if I had some perspectives to share.
I sure do.
I see Life as the greatest teacher. Everything that is happening in our Life is only making us stronger, wiser and, interestingly, happier. So, Life is coaching us through each experience – constantly giving us the test first and the lesson later. In our academic education system the lesson is taught first and then we are tested whether we have learnt it well. But Life doesn’t operate that way. In Life, every step you take is a test and every moment lived carries a lesson. Which is why, unable to transition from our academic conditioning to Life’s free-flowing nature, we struggle with Life. But over time you get better and better at dealing with Life’s ways. Surely, you are never going to be perfect at cracking all of Life’s situations. But yes, you will no longer be shaken, shocked or depressed when a new challenge arrives. This is what I mean when I say that over time Life makes you stronger, wiser and happier.
I asked the young man how was he able to handle rejections now compared to when he was rejected the first few times. “Oh! I just chuckle to myself and say, ‘So, what’s new?’” he replied.
I pointed out to him that he was doing just great dealing with Life. That indeed must be the spirit. I am not well-versed with the scriptures nor have I read all the 18 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita. But from what I have learnt of the Gita’s message, I realize no matter what we wish or how we want things to be, we only are entitled to our efforts, to our actions. We cannot ever claim to control the outcomes. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we may not get what we want. And at other times, without much effort we may be extraordinarily rewarded by Life. So, a string of rejections is just Life’s way of teaching you, of reminding you, that you are not in control. Life is telling you that there’s a higher intelligence, a Higher Energy, which is in control. Even a “brilliant stroke of luck” reiterates precisely the same point.
The young man then asked me one more question: “While I can understand that Life’s upheavals make you stronger and wiser, I am not sure they make you happier. Do they, really?”
I like that question. To understand the answer to that question, let’s first understand here what makes us unhappy. We are unhappy when we don’t get what we want. Simple. So, through surviving Life’s upheavals, if we learn to be accepting of the Life we have, than pine for the Life that we want, won’t we be happier? In the young man’s case, he’s learnt, unwittingly perhaps, to be detached from the outcome of his efforts; he has learnt to drop all his expectations. Whenever you have no expectation from Life, you will only be happy.
What I have also understood about Life is that everything happens at its own pace, in its own time. Just as you cannot argue with Life, you cannot rewind or fast forward time. You have to go through what you have to go through. There is no escape. And so, the best way to live peacefully, happily, is to put in your best efforts each time and leave the results to Life. This means, don’t fight, don’t resist Life. Just accept what comes your way and keep moving on!
A friend asks me why, despite having talent, integrity and goodness, people have to face difficult times. I tell him that talent and integrity do not necessarily offer a smooth passage through Life. So, drop all analyses, I advise him. Just anchor in patience and flow with Life choosing to be non-frustrated and happy, despite the circumstances. This Vlog captures the perspective I shared with him.
View time: 4:31 minutes
My Podcast today holds up a mirror to us reminding us that we must live intelligently – to make time for ourselves, our families and do what we love doing the most! After all, Life is a limited-period offer!!
Listen time: 5:10 minutes
Don’t try to escape your reality. You simply can’t.
I read a story on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, in TIME magazine recently. I liked the way TIME’s presented her story, of how Sheryl’s coped with her husband Dave Goldberg’s sudden death in May 2015. I haven’t read Sheryl’s book yet but I love its title and its focus. Basically, I understand that her book is an attempt to encourage people out there to talk about grief and to “change the conversation about adversity”.
This is what Vaani and I have done too over the last 10 years.
When we were first struck by the horrific reality of our bankruptcy (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) in end-2007, there was so much guilt, grief and shame in me. I would go into the bathroom, so that Vaani couldn’t see me, and cry. I would look into the mirror and insanely ask myself “Why?”, “Why me?” Over time, I realized asking the “Why?” question was futile; Life had to be faced. No matter what your situation is, it is always what it is. You cannot escape your realities in Life. Whether you are bankrupt, like me and Vaani, or whether you have lost a dear one, like Sheryl has, or whether you have a debilitating health challenge, like a cancer or depression, or whether your career has plateaued or whether you are having a relationship issue – whatever it is that you are dealing with, you have no choice but to face Life. And the only, practical, way to face Life is to accept and embrace your reality. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily change your reality. Your problem doesn’t go away. But your ability to deal with your situation is enhanced immeasurably. Look at our story – for Vaani and me, our bankruptcy – read prolonged spells of worklessness and moneylessness – endures. It’s been a decade already. But we have only grown stronger through the crisis, from our experience.
And that’s something very true about us human beings – the more we deal with any problem situation, the stronger we emerge from it. To be sure, we are all endowed with inner strength. But like the Bluetooth feature on your smartphone, you must activate the resilience in you first for you to deploy it. For me personally, the activation and deployment happened when I simply told myself this: “This is it. We are bankrupt. We have a mountain of debt to settle. We have no work. We have no money. We have two teenagers to support. We have Vaani’s dad to look after. Now, what must we do to face this situation and survive it?” That’s really what resilience is all about. Asking yourself the now-what-must-I-do-to-face-this-situation-and-survive-it question activates the resilience feature in you; in anybody.
In our case, over the past decade, we have often times, hit situations when we don’t know what to do. But each time we faced a no-go, we did the next best thing. Which is to live in the moment. That’s how we trained ourselves to be in the present and, over time, we understood happiness as being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. Someone recently asked me, whether I am bitter about Life – especially after “being a failure and being unsuccessful for the longest time”. The truth is I am not bitter at all. Why will I be bitter about a phase that has taught me so much about living – about living purposefully, about being happy and about knowing how strong I really am?
For Vaani and me, like it is for Sheryl, our raison d’etre now is to encourage people to face Life and not to be snowed under the weight of their problems. We are, every waking moment, Inspiring Happiness among whoever cares to pause and reflect. Our crisis has given our Life a Purpose. If you can relate to and internalize what I have shared here, your Life situation can help you discover your Purpose too.
And that brings me to a very powerful, unputdownable, insight I have gained about Life. All our Life stories are unique but the learnings we pick up are often similar. So, each of us will come to our Option B points in Life and each of us will embark on our own Fall Like A Rose Petal journey. Adversity always brings in its wake shock, grief, guilt, fear, insecurity, anxiety and a whole host of debilitating emotions. But they will torment you and hold you hostage only as long as you resist adversity, as long as you run away from it. Once you turn around and face your Life situation, when you look Life squarely in the eye, you only emerge stronger, wiser and – believe me – happier than ever before!